*All stats are based on the 2018-2019 Premiership Season and excluding any domestic or European cup competitions.
When Maurizio Sarri waltzed into Chelsea at the start of the season, he had the fans salivating at the style of football that was being played out on the Stamford Bridge turf. However at that point Chelsea were winning, and when, around week 12 of the Premiership season, the wins started to dry up popular opinion started to shift. Suddenly Maurizio Sarri became the most despised person at Chelsea Football Club.
However, Sarri may be the unluckiest manager in the Premier League this season. According to Understat, who measure xPTS, Chelsea should be in 3rd place, which they are, but with 63 points, while Tottenham should be in 4th with 56 points. Chelsea would still be a way off challenging for the title, but Champions League qualification would be all but wrapped up.
What is xPTS I hear you ask. Well xPTS is underpinned by xG (expected goals), and xPTS, is ‘expected points’. In simple terms xG is the chances of an opportunity resulting in a goal. So, according to this science, Sarri and Chelsea can consider themselves unfortunate not to have Champions League Qualification wrapped up.
Furthermore, Sarri’s perceived favourite Jorginho has come under fire, with the midfielder yet to register an assist this season. Despite the fact he has played the most passes in the premiership during this campaign, completing 2,865 passes.
However the scrutiny of Jorginho, especially from an attacking standpoint seems to be overstated. In defence his capabilities are definitely limited, however Sarri-ball is supposed to hide those limitations with a high percentage of possession, therefore reducing the amount of time the opposition have to expose the weakness.
Jorginho is key for the attacking nature of Sarri-ball with his deep lying playmaking ability. When watching Chelsea, you can see Jorginho is the coach on the field as he talks to other players regarding where to move and where to play the ball. Despite the lack of understanding of players around him Jorginho has still managed to create 22 chances this season, which equates to 0.67 chances per game. In comparison, his midfield colleagues have produced the following numbers:
There is no doubt Jorginho’s numbers could be higher, however these numbers are not too bad considering the lack of knowledge the forward players have of the system, therefore resulting in a lack of chances created by the midfield.
However, to compound Jorginho’s ill-fortune even more, the midfielder has an xA (expected assists) of 2.67, but with zero actual assists. In comparison, his midfield colleagues have posted the following numbers :-
|N’Golo Kante||3.61 xA||4 Assists|
|Jorginho||2.67 xA||0 Assists|
|Ross Barkley||2.48 xA||5 Assists|
|Mateo Kovacic||1.88 xA||2 Assists|
|Ruben Loftus-Cheek||0.82 xA||2 Assists|
|Cesc Fabregas||0.22 xA||0 Assists|
Aaron Ramsey, who has had a top season for Arsenal, has six assists and his xA comes in at 2.23. Wolves’ Ruben Neves has two assists, and has an xA of 1.54.
Therefore, the deficiency in Jorginho’s production, should not just be placed at the feet of the deep lying playmaker, but also the players around him. Jorginho may have zero assists, but could very easily have four or five. One wonders how different public perception may be of the Italian in those circumstances.
Sarri has also come under fire for the lack of game time given to teenage sensation, Callum Hudson-Odoi. This has seemed to change in recent weeks though with the youngster starting back to back Premiership games against Brighton and West Ham. However, the reason Hudson-Odoi has not been starting seems to stem from a system issue.
As stated earlier, many Chelsea players are still struggling with the concept of Sarri-ball which has also been termed liquid football due to its fluidity. It has also been described as a vertical tiki-taka. Sarri-ball sees the team retain possession, playing short quick passing but trying to break teams down with the interchanging of positions between the front three and decisive and piercing passes. However, the vertical and quick passing is only possible with the fluid movements of the front three as they attempt to move defenders, creating space for players to move into and then the midfield three can play penetrative passes into those spaces.
Watching West Ham, you could see Hazard moving everywhere across the pitch, pulling defenders out of position, and if they left him he would be in acres of space, which led to his first goal. Hudson-Odoi on the other hand, held his width on the right side of the pitch. Sarri will want the new England International moving away from his wing more and coming inside or even switching wings.
Finally, when losing the ball, Sarri wants his team to win the ball back quickly with his teams also adopting a high press. Callum Hudson-Odoi, has a tendency to give up when he loses the ball and not change his focus immediately to attempting to win the ball back. This may be a big reason as to why Pedro has been ahead of Odoi in the pecking order at Chelsea, until recently, as it is a defensive structure he would have been used to when playing at Barcelona.
This is not a big problem in the Hudson-Odoi’s game and is definitely a capability which can be coached, however this may explain why he hasn’t been picked as much as some people would like.
Muarizzio Sarri definitely has his faults, there is no doubt about it, however the scrutiny he has come under this season feels emotive rather than logical.
Chelsea fans need to understand, calling for a short term fix is the exact opposite to what they need. It is time for Chelsea to either buy in completely to Sarri or risk falling significantly behind their rivals.
With a transfer ban looking likely, they are no longer the most attractive English side for a top class manager. The squad that lacks depth in comparison to its competitors and the team that doesn’t seem to have a definite way of playing.
At the start of the season top four was not a guarantee for Chelsea, in his first year Sarri got them to a cup final, has a very real chance of Champions League qualification and is in a Europa League quarter final.
After years of instant success, the patience of Chelsea fans has grown very thin, however, right now, patience is a virtue.